Bible Before Boots

bibles3I attended the Remembrance Day service at my local church and afterwards at the cenotaph, where thoughts inevitably focused on lost comrades, friends and loved ones. Our vicar told the congregation how all the 5.7 million British soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War 1 were issued with bibles before joining the fray. I felt there was an implied criticism of the current military, although that may have been more about my sensibilities than his intent. It did remind me that when I joined the Royal Marines a Bible was the first thing I was given, before I was issued boots, beret or bullets! The padre was pleased and greatly reassured when I told him after the service. I have that Bible still.
The week before I was facilitating a trio of activities for employees at Boulby mine as part of their annual Safety Week. Collectively they fired over 7,000 arrows at the archery stance, ascended over 3900 metres on the climbing walls – the equivalent of scaling the Eiger! – and lit 320 fires using steels, all to give a different perspective on safety. The two key themes of the week were around personal safety and management of major hazards. The review sessions demonstrated a high degree of awareness and highlighted several areas for improvement. For me the issues were reinforced by one manager who arrived late, ignored safety signs, missed the safety briefing and then complained that he had limited time on the archery round. Hardly a good example.
What do you want from the people in your organisation? Do you want them to follow your orders slavishly or to think for themselves and help you to build the business? Surely we want people to be committed, not compliant but how do we foster that?
I believe that it is about knowing what you want and how you want to be seen, to behave and be remembered. I am not advocating the all too familiar, broad sweeping and ultimately meaningless mission statements of the corporate world. I am, rather, for asking the question and debating it honestly, openly and freely, “what do we stand for?” This requires that we examine our values and intentions, avoiding the bland platitudes and hyperbolic rantings of the uninformed, the lazy minds who accept and adopt opinions without thinking or evaluating for themselves.
Businesses are, at least potentially, the greatest force for positive change in our communities, local and global. That is what responsible means. We need to lead by example, to know and live our values and as a safety officer at the mine reminded me, remember the motto of RMA Sandhurst: “Serve to Lead.”

Leadership Lessons from the Royal Marines III

Operations

When a Royal marine joins his first unit, he is expected to perform straight

The beret badge of the Royal Marines. The badge of the Royal Marines is designed to commemorate the history of the Corps. The Lion and Crown denotes a Royal regiment. King George III conferred this honour in 1802 "in consideration of the very meritorious services of the Marines in the late war". The "Great Globe", itself surrounded by laurels, was chosen by King George IV as a symbol of the Marines' successes in every quarter of the world. The laurels are believed to honour the gallantry they displayed during the investment and capture of Belle Isle, off Lorient, in April–June 1761.

away, but will be treated as a “sprog” or rookie, and be the brunt of that Commando humour, which can be cruel and merciless, but you will also be given further training and support to become an effective member of that new team.

How does that happen? For me, there are three key elements that build and maintain that ethos, namely:

  • Team Alignment
  • Continuous Improvement
  • Leadership on Purpose

Team Alignment

This feeds off and builds on the team ethos and requires a clearly RM Arcticunderstood and shared purpose. It enables everyone to answer the question “why does this unit exist?” For 45 Commando based in Scotland and deployed annually for three months to Norway it was and still is to defend the northern flank of NATO. For the 3rd Raiding Squadron (3RSRM) it was to keep the borders of Hong Kong secure.

This purpose then translates into shorter term objectives or goals which are always clear, measurable, achievable, and relevant. Every team member knows his role, his tasks and how they contribute to the unit’s goal. All military briefings follow a standard and well tested format and that goal or objective, called the mission, is always stated twice with real emphasis because it is so important:

  • To secure the building
  • To destroy the enemy radar
  • To sell 500 widgets

To reinforce this all team members are expected to conduct situational appraisals at regular intervals and all relevant information is shared. This means anyone is able to take over leadership at any time. It is also important that the leader clarifies their intentions, why some things are

The OC of Bravo Company Major Dan Cheeseman RM talks to an Elder at the weekly (Shura) gatering of Elders at Sangin. Nov 2007

done in certain ways. For example, while the role of 3RSRM required them to arrest and repatriate illegal immigrants in Hong Kong, we still felt and showed sympathy for the situation of those people. Indeed while part of our role was to intercept illegal immigrants, our main focus was to capture the people smugglers who preyed on those poor souls. Similarly, while the role of 3 Commando Brigade was to defeat the Taliban, it was crucial that they also won the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

Finally the leader empowers and trusts all team members to act in accordance with the objective.

Royal Marines are given huge responsibility from a very young age. The marine in charge of that road block in Kabul may be only 19 or 20 years old, the corporal in charge of the weapons search not much older. I was just 23 when I took charge of the green goddesses in Glasgow during the fireman’s strike. They accept those responsibilities because they know what is expected of them, that they will be given the necessary support and that they will be held accountable for their actions and those of their team.

When one of my patrol craft was in collision with an unlit junk in the South China Sea in the middle of the night, it was me that reported to the Naval Commander and debriefed the crew, even though I had been at home in bed at the time of the incident.

What is the lesson for business? – are your front-line troops really aligned with your strategy?

Continuous Improvement

As important as clear briefings are effective and timely debriefs, where everyone is encouraged to critique the last operation. Openness and honesty further build the mutual trust and team spirit. It is also the time to hold people to account, for people to put their hands up more than to point fingers. Too many businesses, in my experience do this poorly, if at all.

Leadership on Purpose

Leaders develop leaders. After their 6 months basic training, Royal Marines join a unit where they will be given more training and look forward to being selected for the 11 week Junior Command Course, which qualifies them for promotion to corporal. How many managers in business receive even 11 hours of training before promotion?

Continual Professional Development is a fact of life for all marines. That does not mean that all will be promoted. There is a tradition that some will serve their entire careers, sometimes over 20 years in the rank of marine. These characters are revered and celebrated for their experience and common sense and given roles where that can be taken advantage of.

How can these lessons be applied to business? I am sure you can see many transferable leadership lessons from these ramblings, but I would highlight Trust (through genuine empowerment), Support and Accountability……. and to enjoy ourselves when we could!RCDO 025

 

 

Leadership Lessons from the Royal Marines II

CTCRM-Lympstone-75th-Birthday(part two)
Training

Having completed that brief introductory course, I moved with the rest of my troop of 66 recruits to the Commando Training Centre at Lympstone. There we began the longest basic military training in the world, designed to prepare us for life as a Royal Marines Commando.

Despite the intensity, the objective was not mindless obedience, but to follow (and question) orders while encouraging initiative and dependability. There were a lot of physical challenges – assault courses, speed marches and battle swimming tests. These were interspersed with training in weapon handling, fieldcraft, navigation, corps history, tactics and even legal issues.

The (self) selection and de-selection continued and six months later just 14 out of that original 66 passed out for duty. This sounds attritional and, while our troop lost more than most a 50% drop out rate was average in those days.

Water Tunnel 02However, what is not obvious from the numbers is that the culture within the troop was as supportive as it was demanding. Although each individual was tested in the classroom, the gymnasium, on the moors and the parade ground, there was a strong ethic that if one failed, we all failed. This was literally true of the regular speed marches (running as a squad carrying battle order, weighing in at 30 lbs and a 9 lb rifle) – if anyone did not finish in time, the whole troop ran again the next day.

We started very much as individuals competing to better each other, but soon became a team who worked together to collectively overcome the challenges of the programme.

This is how we nurture and develop the unique ethos that helps the Royal Marines excel as an organisation. Incidentally, Royal Marine officers train at the same centre and have a higher standard to achieve in all of the Commando tests.

The theme of this article is leadership and this is fostered in every recruit from the start. They are all expected to show personal leadership through self-discipline and are also required to take turns at leading sections during training exercises. Those who show particular potential will be earmarked for fast track promotion on joining their operational units.

RM ValuesThe four elements of the Commando Spirit, Courage, Determination, Unselfishness and Cheerfulness are what turn individuals into commandos. What shapes how they work as a team, giving the Royal Marines its special identity are the Commando values and the wider set of group values. The seeds of these values are sown during training and further developed when joining a commando unit.

Joel Kurtzman in his book of the name, describes “Common Purpose” as a new concept. I would accept that the label and understanding is relatively new, but it has been part of what makes commandos into leaders for a long time.

While not having the luxury of a long training period, few organisations have an induction process that shares the values, purpose and culture that they are looking to promote.

Leadership Lessons from the Royal Marines

(part one)

RM Eyes

When I initiate a discussion about leadership, the examples most often cited are from the realms of sport or the military. Many express admiration for Alex Ferguson, Clive Woodward, Norman Schwarzkopf or Tim Collins. Others will quote various military strategists from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz, from Churchill to Montgomery. A couple of relevant ones from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” are:

  • Leadership alone determines success
  • A leader leads not by force, but by example

While I appreciate the sport analogies, having been a rugby coach for 20 years, those from the military are closer to my heart. However, I disagree with many of the opinions about military leadership, which are riddled with inaccuracies and misconceptions fuelled by Hollywood and old comics.` Having said that, I do believe there is much we can learn from the armed forces and that can be transferred to the world of business. In this and subsequent articles, I hope to give you some insights into how leadership is developed in the Royal Marines and how these lessons can be applied to your business.

I served in the Royal Marines for 13 years rising from recruit to Captain, served in Northern Ireland, Norway and the Far East.

I do believe that there are a number of lessons that businesses can learn about Leadership from the Royal Marines. There are, of course many differences between running a business and commanding a military unit – with the consequences of failure being one stark example. However I intend to focus on the areas of similarity and what we can learn from them.

The Royal Marines have been in existence since 1664, celebrating its 350th anniversary two years ago. They have fought in conflicts around the world, earning many honours. They fought at Trafalgar, and captured the Rock of Gibraltar, but are probably best known for their exploits during and since the 2nd World War as Britain’s Commando force, specialising in Raiding, Amphibious, Mountain and Arctic warfare.

I have chosen three areas to explore when charting the development of a commando leader: selection, training and operations.

Selection

The recruitment process for the Corps is rigorous and demanding. The adverts tell us that 99.9% need not apply. The initial requirements in terms of physical, intellectual and other attributes are of a higher standard than any other part of the UK armed forces.

RM State of Mind

A job interview like no other

Having said that, probably the most important criterion is attitude – my drill sergeant summed this up when he told me that Royal Marines select themselves. I remember my first day, when we travelled down to Deal in Kent for a 10 day induction course and initial screening. Two opted to leave after just one hour!

What lessons do you recognise from this? I would love to hear your thoughts and will talk about the impact of training in the next article. For me, one obvious link is the oft quoted adage to:

“Recruit for Attitude, Train for Skills.”